Dr. Rebecca Fillmore, Researcher & Assistant Professor of Biology at The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast
"The three most important qualities for a woman scientist are persistence, confidence in your abilities, and a passion for what you are doing."
- How did you get interested in science?
I had a really good Biology teacher in 9th grade. She was teaching us about eye color and showing us how to do Punnett squares. I remember going home and looking up genetic engineering in our set of World Book Encyclopedias. The teacher was inspiring enough and that (genetics) caught my attention enough...that's really what sparked my interest.
- What drew you to becoming a PhD?
A molecular developmental biology class...the hardest class that I ever took in my undergraduate years. It was not only the hardest, but probably the most interesting. I put so much extra time and effort into it. I really started realizing the effort that went into the research part of science. And so after taking that class, that’s when I decided I want to do some research in developmental biology.
- What is your biggest accomplishment?
I found a link between a particular factor, that had an unknown function, and it’s ability to slow the growth of breast cancer cells. It didn’t stop breast cancer cells from developing in the first place, but I was able to show that it’s function was to slow the tumor growth.
- Your research is monumental. It could potentially effect millions of people. How do you push yourself daily?
Especially in my line of research, there’s not a lot of huge rewards that come very often. It’s real slow going. Little small victories right now are what keep me going. I study mechanisms of cancer, of how cancer spreads, and to me I get more satisfaction out of knowing that what I’m doing could potentially lead to better treatments for stopping the spread of cancer.
- What advice do you have for young, female researchers?
Whatever field that they’re interested in, they should go for it. I am one of those that if it’s something that you want to do, you should do it. If it’s going to make you happy, then that’s what you should try to do. Sometimes it’s hard, but nothing worthwhile in life is easy. There are going to be struggles, but if it’s what you want, then it’s worth fighting for.
- Did you know you were going to be a professor?
Not at all. I say not at all because my first real interest is the research. I love being in the lab, and I love doing the research. I like jigsaw puzzles, putting things together, finding pieces that don’t fit and making them work to basically make a picture, and in research, make a story out of clues. And that’s why research works so well for me. That’s really where my first passion is. Now, I really like educating people as well. Over time, I realized I most likely won’t be as successful just doing research because I want to have a family. And that’s not to say that you can’t, as a woman scientist, be successful in just doing research, you can. But you have to make sacrifices somewhere, from what I’ve seen. So that’s when I realized that I am going to have to make a decision. Am I going to stick with doing just research and not have near as much family time, or am I going to start doing a little more teaching and not focus so heavily on my research? That seemed to be the only way that I was going to make it work.